In his gospel the Apostle John sets characters side by side, inviting the reader to compare and contrast. One such couple is Nicodemus (Ch 3) and the woman by the well (Ch 4) who are starkly different in background and life experience. So it is with these two unnamed men, identified by their affliction – the invalid (Ch 5) and the blind man (Ch 9).
They have much in common: both men, both unnamed, both with long term
affliction, one hadn’t walked for 38 years, the other blind from birth. Jesus takes the initiative with each one, and directs them both to action: ‘Get up and walk’, ‘Go and wash the mud from your eyes’. The affect for each was immediate and complete. Neither improved gradually: ‘at once he walked’, ‘he went and washed and came back seeing’!
Both were healed on the Sabbath day, both were cross examined by the Jews, one because it is not lawful to carry a bed on the Sabbath, the other because it is not lawful to make mud on the Sabbath.
Yet there are contrasts. In chapter 5 Jesus asks the question: ‘Do you want to be healed?’ And in chapter 9 he is asked the question: ‘Who is responsible for this man’s congenital blindness?’
The biggest contrast, however, is in the response of each man to the opposition of the Jewish leaders. The chapter 5 man is compliant; he doesn’t know who spoke to him, and he doesn’t seem very interested. Later he will find out and when he does he lets the Jewish leaders know and they then persecute Jesus. It seems he doesn’t really care about that. With a word, he has his legs back, he doesn’t ask questions, he doesn’t want to make waves, he is non-seeking, non-questioning, all probably for the sake of his own safety.
The chapter 9 man is very different – he tells the Jews what the man said and did and identifies him as a prophet. When asked to confirm that Jesus is a sinner he points to his own experience: ‘once I was blind, now I see’. When they persistently question him, he wants to know whether they too want to follow Jesus. They respond that Jesus is a sinner, but he responds with logic: only God grants sight, I can see, God must listen to him!
The response of the Jewish leaders is typical – when the argument gets strong, resort to threats and close it down. Jesus meets the man again, as he had met the invalid, but to the seeing man Jesus identifies himself as the Son of Man, and the man says, ‘Lord, I believe and he worshipped him’. His new physical sight is matched by his new spiritual sightedness. Once he was in the dark physically and spiritually; now he is in the light, physically and spiritually.
The Pharisees by contrast, are in the light physically and in the dark spiritually, and by the end of the incident their spiritual darkness is even deeper because of their resistance of this sign and its implications. The coming of Jesus means that ‘those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind’ (John 9:39).
This is the glaring contrast: a man, a beneficiary of great blessing from Jesus, who doesn’t think or seek beyond the merely physical, in contrast to a man who progresses to spiritual sightedness and eternal life. Jesus’ coming will divide and, apart from the proactive mercy of God, we are all as lifeless and self-absorbed as the invalid of chapter 5. Remembering this will deliver us from any sense of superiority. Sinners do not save themselves; they are spiritually dead, they cannot revive themselves.
It is a word found written between these two men which sheds light on this experience: ‘No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father’ (John 6:65). Salvation is of the Lord. We were as hardened as anyone, but God showed mercy to us. Pray for God the Father’s mercy to accompany our sharing of God the Son’s work, for this is the instrument by which God the Spirit brings light into our dark world.
– David Cook.